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An interview with 10x10 Room, the developers of Conclave

We have a surprise treat today! We recently conducted an interview with Nick Branstator, who is one half of the team that founded 10x10 Room, developer of online browser-based tactical RPG Conclave. Nick goes over the ideas and guidelines that he and co-founder Derek Bruneau formulated and eventually developed into the game we're playing today. We also grilled him a bit about Conclave's fantasy world (which we'll be exploring in more detail in a future post), and about the team's plans for the future.

James recently covered Conclave for Portable Perks here, and we've also been talking about the game on the OMGeek Podcast. You can visit Conclave's official site to sign up and play -- tell us if you do and we'll get an adventuring party going! You can also visit Conclave's successful Kickstarter page for more background.

Read on for the interview!

Conclave is asynchronous and can be played on pretty much any modern device that has a browser. What inspired you to design the game this way?

Our goal was to deliver all the fun parts of the tabletop RPG experience, but in a form that you can enjoy even if you don't have lots of time, a flexible schedule, or nearby friends who play such games. Basically, Derek and I were talking one day, reminiscing about the time we spent when we were younger on games like D&D, GURPS, and so on, and recognizing all the reasons we couldn't get together with people regularly to play those games any more. We started talking about how you'd make a tabletop-inspired game that we, ourselves, would have the opportunity to play. We quickly realized it should have three key features:

  1. The option to play a session in just a couple of minutes, if that's all that you have available. We made a number of decisions with game mechanics to make this possible.
  2. Playability on as many devices as possible. The shortest route to such flexibility was the browser, plus we ourselves were longtime Web developers and executives, so the browser was familiar ground.
  3. Fluid swapping between asynchronous and synchronous play (and socialization: chat is both synchronous and asynchronous too). That way you don't have to schedule your play to coincide with that of your party mates - but if it happens to, you get a realtime experience.

In what ways did developing a browser-based game (as opposed to a more “traditional” game) affect your development process?

The browser imposes some limits on what you can do graphically and with sound - especially if you eschew browser plugins as we have (a choice we made in order to keep Conclave available on as many devices as possible; Flash would have taken us off iOS devices, for example). Adoption of HTML5 and CSS3 has improved matters, but the browser still lacks the performance and features available if you are programming natively for your computer.

In most cases this has not mattered, because Conclave's roots in the tabletop make it work well with a relatively simple presentation. We don't need fancy 3D graphics, for example, to evoke a turn-based, tactical combat. Still, we have had to put extra work into some areas you might not expect, from creating our hex-inspired battlegrid, to creating animations, to having multitrack sound, to providing realtime updates of activity by other players.

Can you give us some background about the world and setting of Conclave?

Conclave is set in the world of Orn. The five self-proclaimed civilized races, known in aggregate as the Kin, have been forced over a period of centuries to flee their ancestral lands for reasons that vary from race to race; this has been termed the Age of Retreat. They have taken refuge in the ancient lands in and around the old city of Bastion, where they have banded together for protection against the forces that drove them from their homes. The Kin call these lands and themselves the Conclave.

Conclave is a world where magic is very real and present in people's lives. Every Kin understands a couple of basic things about magic: its power comes from a source they call the Concordance, and each of the races has a Tradition they use to tap and utilize it. For example, the forgeborn originated the Tradition of Runecasting, which channels elemental forces outward through the body of the caster, while the mezoar developed the Tradition of True Sight, which is deeply rooted in personal perception. Kin don't really talk in terms of "magic" though, let alone something like "spellcasting"; they would likely refer to "using Runecasting" or "evoking True Sight" or somesuch. And only specialists or lorefinders can have a deeper conversation about how it works, just as your average person in our world is unlikely to be able to have a sophisticated conversation about labor law, esoteric financial instruments, or how solid state memory really works.

Conclave literally means “with Key” in latin for a secret meeting and is also what they call the process by which they select a new pope; can you tell us how you came about naming the game?

Conclave was originally named "Bastion", in keeping with the aforementioned city at the center of the Conclave. We chose the name to reinforce the idea that the Kin had found a last bastion of defense, and that the heroes played by the characters would be fighting to maintain that last stand.

We had been in development for more than a year when we got word of Supergiant Games' own "Bastion". While we had a pretty good legal claim to the name, we felt it was in nobody's interests to get into a fight over it, especially when it would mean one indie tussling with another. We brainstormed names for a long time, finally settling on "Conclave", which came to name the lands around Bastion and the people themselves. Note that this predates the recent papal conclave by a long period! Now I can't imagine the game having any other name.

Any future plans, new features, updates, for Conclave you might want to share with us? Any new games you're working on?

For now, we are focusing on expansion material to the existing game, refining existing features and performance, and adding new features like guilds to the game. Our efforts continue to be wholly focused on evolving Conclave. One of the wonderful things about web development is that you can constantly improve your game or any other web product.

You enter a 10x10 room. A lone orc is guarding a chest. What do you do?

Share some pie with him!

Thanks so much! For the interview. Not the pie. We won't ask the orc to share his piece of pie.

We hope you found this interview enlightening. We're really enjoying the game so far, and it's been a blast progressing through the quests at our own pace. We'll have more on our adventuring experience with Conclave soon!

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